Unmasking Andong's cultural beauty

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Unmasking Andong's cultural beauty

Ask any Korean where history and tradition remain alive on the peninsula, and he'll probably say "Andong." The North Gyeongsang province city seems to have it all -- a folk village, a rich mask dance tradition and a Confucian academy.

But go to Andong without a good guide, and you may end up disappointed, trapped in tasteless tourist restaurants and souvenir shops. Much of the true beauty of Andong is hidden; but a new English-language book released this year by Andong National University, "A Cultural and Historic Journey Into Andong," can steer you in the right direction.

With 104 color photographs, the book itself gives you a real taste of Andong. It presents the history of the city as a basis to understand its culture, and provides plenty of interesting details that even most Koreans would not know.

Touring Andong is thought to be all about the Hahoe folk village and the Dosan Confucian academy. But eight additional folk villages are in the area, and the book describes their origins, history and special features.

On Andong's culture, the book goes far beyond the mask dance. It describes the colorful tradition of notdaribalgi, practiced on the first full moon of the lunar calendar, in which village women line up and bend over to make a bridge of backs for the queen to walk over. The tradition dates to the King Gongmin era (1352-1374) of the Goryeo Dynasty.

The book also introduces seongjupuri, a song praying for a family's prosperity. The song is related to the shamanistic Seongju religion, in which the Seongju was the head guardian spirit of a house, believed to live under the ceiling of the living room. More information on Seongju's spirits is given, like the kitchen god Jowangsin and the child-bearing spirit Samsin.

The most useful part of the book is its suggested tours, divided into themes such as architecture, literature, Buddhist culture, Confucian culture and folk culture. Another useful resource is the list of Web sites related to tourism in Andong, where you can find schedules for transportation and events in English and Japanese as well as Korean.

The book is now available in bookstores, at a list price of 12,000 won ($10). It was put together by the university's Institute of Andong Culture and translated into English by the Center for Korean Studies at Hawaii University.

by Chun Su-jin

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